Burnout Paradise review – No Girls or Green Grass in this City

The Burnout racing game series has until this point been about driving fast, crashing, and repeatedly pressing A to advance through about a million confirmation, warning, and congratulatory screens. Allow me to give you an example of the kind of punishment one had to endure for the act of finishing a race in first place:

“CONGRATULATIONS!” Press “A”.
“YOU UNLOCKED A NEW CAR!” Press “A”.
“Would you like to save?” Select “Yes”.
“Are you sure?” Press “A”.
“WARNING! Do not remove your memory card during the saving process.” Press “A”.
“Game Saved.” Press “A”.
“Dave, will I dream? Daaaaaaave.” And then you power down the system.

Occasionally you got to play a racing game but mostly this was what I recall spending my time doing. Thankfully this element has been mostly stricken from the latest entry: Burnout Paradise, and replaced with a huge concrete playground to speed excessively in. Fans disappointed by the lack of interruptions will be happy to know that by merely unlocking a few cars they’ll be treated to 2-3 minutes of scrolling text and the obligatory jamming of the “A” button next time they visit the garage. For the rest of us this is an unwelcome distraction but ultimately nowhere near as intolerable as it was in Burnout 3: Takedown.

Since more often than not I actually got to play Paradise, I should probably say something about the game itself. You’re thrusted into an open world environment where events are activated at any street intersections, cars are earned by tracking down and crashing into them, and every single car inexplicably lacks a driver. The vehicles handle so well you’ll feel like you’re channeling The Stig. The graphics are so smooth my eyes came. The game is so much pure fun that I don’t really see any point in touching something like Gran Turismo or Forza ever again. Sorry gearheads, but adjusting camber is never going to be as fun as weaving through traffic at 200 mph, smashing into an opponent, and turning their car into a fiberglass accordion.

The open world is initially awe-inspiring; then unfortunately, for a period, controller-throwing-ly frustrating. The mini-map is zoomed in way too close for the speeds you travel at. You’ll regularly find yourself taking an entirely wrong turn, thinking you took a shortcut, and then finishing at a solid, respectable 8th place. There are turn signals at the top of the screen that tell you when to turn if you don’t want to take any shortcuts, but the moment you go off the beaten path it is critical that you ignore it completely. In fact, just ignore it anyway, be a man, don’t stop for directions, and just learn the city. It’s the Steve McQueen way. Eventually you’ll start to know major roads by name, the best shortcuts, and the craziest stunt jumps. Once it all clicks the game becomes a completely different beast, so give it some time.

One feature I must hit on is the amazing online play. Everything is so seamless you can literally do a double barrel roll off a cliff while inviting your friends to your game. The only time there’s a break in the action is when you gather everyone for a race. Races always end at one of the 8 major landmarks in the city but can start from any intersection in Paradise. This is especially brilliant because once you learn all of the finish lines no matter where the race starts you have a general idea of where to go. There are few gaming experiences as adrenaline pumping as a close 8 player race in Burnout Paradise.

There’s a lot more to say about this game, but it’s really not necessary for me to go on for pages about the hundreds of single player events, 350 co-op challenges, user created races, webcam support, and wide variety of vehicles. All told, I’ve spent over 25 hours playing this game and I’m absolutely ready to go back for more. If you love racing games, buy Burnout Paradise immediately. I will warn that there is a multi-hour learning period as you settle into Paradise City, but ultimately it pays off. Casual gamers will have fun tooling around the city while the hardcore will aim for every shortcut. If you’re in between it’s possible you’ll end up overwhelmed and bored, but just stick with it, learn with some friends, and it will eventually gel. If you’re on the fence, you owe it to yourself to at least rent it as it’s easily the best entry in the series and one of the best arcade racing game ever.

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